Return-to-football workouts expose those ‘slacking’ when schools closed

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Friday, July 3, 2020 | 3:57 PM


Central Catholic’s campus was closed for three months, cutting off access to the football team’s weight room, but most players found ways to stay in shape.

With this week’s temperature in the 90s, their fitness was tested.

“There are people who were working out and people who were slacking,” said rising senior Eric Benson, one of the Vikings who clearly worked out.

“You can really see the difference.”

After an extended layoff that began in mid-March, high school football coaches statewide eased their players back into offseason workouts this summer.

But that doesn’t mean coaches made life easy.

Central Catholic, the defending WPIAL Class 6A champion, restarted its team conditioning program a week ago. One morning this week, Vikings players were pushing heavy weights from one sideline to the other.

“Definitely, they stand out,” defensive coordinator Dave Fleming said of the kids who worked hard under stay-at-home orders. “We made it difficult for these first two weeks just to kind of see who has been doing some stuff and who hasn’t.

“And those guys that haven’t are struggling.”

Benson had shed his T-shirt in the morning heat, but the 6-foot-2, 200-pound wide receiver and linebacker was pleased with his preparation.

“My endurance was way better,” Benson said, “so I was able to push through the workouts.”

However, for at least the next week, the players will be working out alone again.

Central Catholic, along with other Allegheny County schools, shut down team workouts until July 13 after county health officials put a 25-person restriction on gatherings.

Before the temporary shutdown, the Vikings already were socially distancing. They used a split-squad approach for the first two weeks of workouts. Group A attended Monday and Wednesday, with Group B working out Tuesday and Thursday.

Those groups were divided further into workout teams of 10 to limit potential covid-19 exposure.

“It’s been very strange for us and everybody else,” coach Terry Totten said Wednesday. “I want to credit my guys for organizing this. They’re very thorough in the morning with our spacing and our temperature taking and our questions about anyone you’ve been in contact with. I just can’t say enough.”

Assistant coach Steve Bezila led the efforts, assisted by Dave Fleming, Ron Fuchs and others. Workout equipment was wiped down after each use. Athletes brought their own water. Footballs were left in storage until late in the second week.

“All in all, I’m pleasantly pleased with what we’ve got accomplished,” Totten said.

The coaches considered attendance excellent at the voluntary workouts and had heard no apprehension from players or parents.

“No complaints,” Fleming said. “We have had some parents stay around and look, I think just to see how we were working things. But as far as the way our administration — and especially Coach Bezila — has set this thing up, it’s really run seamlessly.”

Fleming remained optimistic that football season would be played as scheduled this fall.

Totten wasn’t as certain.

“I’m about on the fence, 50-50,” Totten said. “I think the big thing is going to be getting kids back in school together. And then it would be nice if they gave us the green light. What part of the year that is, I don’t know.”

While stuck at home for weeks, running back Eddy Tillman ran with friends at Penn Hills’ stadium, until that field was closed, too. He’d also work out in a friend’s grandfather’s basement.

He wasn’t complaining about this week’s tough team workouts.

“It’s wonderful,” Tillman said. “I thought we weren’t going to be able to practice because of the covid-19. They talk about the numbers getting greater. I’m just hoping we can keep on playing.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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